As the audience enters the John Lees Centre, they are met with the warm welcome of the Ruby Productions team and ushered into the living room of the Beare family. Well… that’s what it feels like, anyway. As the music of the 80s gently plays in the background, the audience takes in the meticulously arranged living room and kitchen which will soon host the shenanigans of Maggie Beare, her long-suffering son, Arthur, and a host of other visitors. Director and Set Designer Ann Attwood has crafted every detail from the family portrait over the fireplace to the row of pill bottles across the top of the microwave and, my favourite, the Arnotts collector tin on the shelf.
“Mother and Son” is better known as an Australian TV comedy from the 80s, so one may excuse me for being somewhat nervous about how it would translate to the stage 40 years later. Nevertheless, my fears were allayed by the fact that the stage comedy was penned by Geoffrey Atherden, the creator of the TV show, and the three acts of the play are adaptations of iconic episodes of the original.
In Episode 1 “Milk”, the audience first meets Arthur Beare, played by Director and Company Founder, Anthony Brown. From the outset, Brown aptly portrays the tension between loving care and weary exasperation that serve as the foundation of his character.
Anne Broomfield is delightfully funny as Maggie Beare paying homage to Ruth Cracknell’s original portrayal but adding her own humour and cheeky nuance, making her an undeniable audience favourite.
A certain delicate touch is required to maintain pathos and humour when dealing with issues of family dysfunction and the heartbreak of dementia, and the cast manages this beautifully. Of the three “episodes”, Episode 2 “The Funeral” contains the most complex of themes and character relationships, and yet it is the funniest of them all. Arthur and Maggie are joined by the “favourite son” Robert (Jeffrey Brocktoff), his pretentiously unlikable wife Liz (Jessica Hanlon) and unfortunate Uncle Tom (Ronnie Crowe) for a wickedly funny exploration of death, family conflict and grieving the passing of time.
While the titular Mother and Son are the true stars of the show - Broomfield and Brown gave it their all and hardly left the stage during the three episodes - credit also goes to the supporting players who added to the humour and storytelling across the distinct narratives. A special shout-out to Helen Crowe and Linda Holland who presented their multiple roles with clear definition and portrayed suitable bewilderment as the unfortunate characters who entered at key moments to be the voice of reason in some highly ridiculous scenarios.
An enjoyable production with many laugh-out-loud moments. I’d give it 3.5 cups of tea (with milk!)